The turmoil caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has underlined the need for a free Indo-Pacific region, Joe Biden has said, at the start of a meeting with regional partners that Beijing has slammed as part of a US-led attempt to contain China.
Biden, and the leaders of a loose alliance known as the Quad – India, Japan and Australia – reaffirmed their commitment to a “free and open” Indo-Pacific during talks in Tokyo on Tuesday. The comments came one day after the US president said Washington would be ready to intervene militarily to defend Taiwan, prompting China to accuse him of “playing with fire”.
Biden later appeared to attempt to play down his remarks, saying the US policy of “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan remained unchanged, according to media reports.
The meeting was expected to be overshadowed by differences with India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, over how to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“This is about democracies versus autocracies, and we have to make sure we deliver,” Biden said at the start of the meeting with Modi, Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, and Australia’s new prime minister, Anthony Albanese.
With Modi sitting nearby, Biden said the leaders were “navigating through a dark hour in our shared history” due to Russia’s war on Ukraine. I have added that it was “more than just a European issue, it’s a global issue”. Modi did not address the issue in his public remarks about him as the summit got under way.
The US strategy was for a “free, open, connected, secure and resilient Indo-Pacific,” Biden said. “Russia’s assault on Ukraine only heightens the importance of those goals – the fundamental principles of the international order.”
Kishida noted Russian aggression in Ukraine: “We cannot let the same thing happen in the Indo-Pacific region.”
The four leaders were eager to present a united front, but there are divisions behind the scenes.
While Japan and Australia have joined the US in condemning the Russian invasion and imposing sanctions, India, which buys most of its military hardware from Russia, has so far refused to do either.
The divisions over Russia highlight the limits political reality places on the Quad, whose focus is on practical cooperation in areas such as coronavirus vaccines, infrastructure, climate change, space, cybersecurity and critical and emerging technologies.
Japanese media speculated that the leaders’ statement, released as soon as the meeting has ended, would refer to the importance of honoring a “rules-based” maritime order in the region – a reference to increased Chinese air and naval activity near Taiwan and islands in the East China Sea administered by Japan but claimed by Beijing.
China will be closely following Tuesday’s summit, only the second in-person meeting since the Quad’s first formal summit last year.
China has described the Quad as an attempt to form an Asian version of Nato, although the four members have not agreed to a mutual defense pact.
Quad members say the group is meant to deepen economic, diplomatic and military ties among the four countries. Biden said the grouping was of growing importance, calling it a “central” partnership. “In a short time, we’ve shown the Quad isn’t just a passing fad. We mean business,” he said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism